Phillies suffer turn-back-the-clock loss to Daniel Mengden, A's

Phillies suffer turn-back-the-clock loss to Daniel Mengden, A's


At the turn of the 20th century, the Philadelphia Athletics collected three World Series titles and six AL pennants behind some dominant pitching. 

The A’s were back in town on Friday night, and Daniel Mengden made it feel — and look — like 1913 again. 

Sporting a handlebar mustache and an old-school delivery, Mengden tossed a two-hitter, shutting down Rhys Hoskins and the Phillies in Oakland’s 4-0 victory in a matchup of last-place teams at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

Matt Olson — Oakland’s version of Hoskins — hit a 483-foot, two-run homer in the first inning off Mark Leiter Jr. It was the rookie’s 15th homer in his past 30 games and 19 in 51. 

Hoskins had entered as the fastest in major-league history to hit 18 homers. But his 35th game proved frustrating. He chased a pitch in the dirt for strike three in the second and fanned looking on three pitches in the fourth. He made good contact in the seventh, but grounded out sharply to second. 

Mengden was so efficient Hoskins didn’t get a fourth at-bat. 

“As well as we’ve been swinging the bats, we got stymied by that Mengden kid,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He really pitched well. He pitched backwards. He threw as many off-speed pitches as he did fastballs. I tip my cap to him. He really did a good job on us, and I’m glad I didn’t give J.P. Crawford the day off."

Crawford, making his second start at shortstop, singled in the third and sixth innings for the only offense. He never got past second base, and Aaron Altherr’s fly out to deep left in the seventh was the closest the Phillies came to scoring in their first shutout since Aug. 16 at San Diego. 

The Phillies were coming off a three-game sweep of Miami in which they scored 27 runs. But Mengden’s double-clutch windup and changing speeds messed with the Phillies’ timing. 

It was a good reminder this remains a young team that’s still experiencing things for the first time. 

“It’s a funky delivery, a funky windup,” said Andrew Knapp, who made his first start at catcher since Aug. 3. “He kind of messes with your timing with the double pump over the top. But kudos to him. He was hitting his spots and keeping us off-balance.”

Mengden (1-1) retired the first seven hitters and the final 11 in his first career complete game. He walked none and struck out seven. Not bad for a guy who was called up 10 days earlier and came in with a 7.07 ERA in three big-league starts this season. 

But nobody on the Phillies’ active roster had ever faced the 24-year-old right-hander. Blame that on an unusual September interleague series, with the A’s making their first trip to their former home since 2011. 

And it’s been many years since anybody has seen the extended windup-handlebar mustache combination on the mound. 

“He probably does it for his own comfort level,” Mackanin said. 

Mengden taps his toe and brings his glove over his head before bringing it back to eye level. Then he taps his toe and again raises his glove before delivering to the plate. But Mengden also at times went to a regular delivery. 

“A bunch of the Phillies kind of hang low and get that timing off the pitcher," Mengden said. "So we wanted to get some quick pitches in there."

Even when the Phillies figured out the delivery, they were befuddled by the pitches themselves.

“Hitters never knew what’s coming,” Mackanin said. “He pitched backwards sometimes and snuck fastballs by us. He started off with fastballs and got us out soft. It was tough for a hitter to know what was coming. He missed his spots only about eight times, which is huge.”

Matt Joyce added a second two-out, two-run homer in the third off Leiter (3-6). The right-hander settled down from there to allow four runs and seven hits over six innings with one walk while matching a career high with nine strikeouts. 

“I had pretty good command of a lot of my secondary stuff, so I was just trying to mix it up and bury the off-speed pitches when we got to two strikes,” Leiter said. 

The bullpen was flawless from there, with Zac Curtis striking out two in a hitless ninth in his Phillies debut. And Knapp was smooth behind the plate in his return from a broken hand. But the Phillies dropped their 90th game, and now must win six of their final 15 to avoid 100 losses. 

“The result wasn’t what we wanted, but the hand felt good. No problems there,” Knapp said. “it felt good getting behind the plate again.” 

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

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Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spectrum Field was sold out, filled with fans clad in green and smeared with sunblock for a game against the Atlanta Braves on a festive St. Paddy’s Day.
But the main event Saturday took place several hundred yards away at the minor-league complex, two hours before the big-league game even began.
Five days after signing a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies, Jake Arrieta climbed atop a mound and threw a 31-pitch (two-inning) simulated game. Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Logan Moore and Andrew Pullin were the hitters. Andrew Knapp was the catcher. Players, coaches, minor-league instructors and manager Gabe Kapler all peeked in. Dozens of fans hugged the chain-link fence to get a look at the newest Phillie. They applauded when Arrieta took the mound and again when he finished.
“It was great,” the 32-year-old pitcher said moments after the workout ended. “There’s a lot of people out here. A lot of people are excited for the Phillies in 2018. We’ve got a lot of good things going on here. A lot of guys are healthy and competing, there’s a lot of youth. It’s a really fun time to be in this organization.”
Arrieta said he felt “really good physically,” not a surprise because he came into camp in terrific shape and had gotten to over 60 pitches in bullpen sessions back home in Austin, Texas. He threw all his pitches, including a couple of knee-buckling curveballs. He broke two of Alfaro’s bats, one with a sinker, one with a cutter.
“My goal was to throw everything in the arsenal for strikes and throw my off-speed pitches in and out of the zone where I could get some chases,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta did allow some contact, mostly ground balls.
Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award with the Cubs. He won 22 games and had a 1.77 ERA that season.
A deceptive delivery is one of Arrieta’s strengths. He throws across his body and that crossfire action makes it difficult for a hitter to pick up the ball.
“It’s extremely deceptive,” Kingery said. “Every pitch is extremely deceptive. That’s what hit me. His curveball looks like it’s coming at your head then it drops.”
Arrieta is still hoping to be ready for the first week of the regular season, but the Phillies have not formulated a firm game plan. One thing is certain: They won’t rush him. They want him for the long haul. They could hold him back 10 days or so, allowing him to build more arm strength, and he’d still make 30 starts.
Arrieta expects to throw a bullpen session in the next day or two and try to get up around 60 pitches in his next outing. That could be in a minor-league game or in another simulated game.
“As long as we continue to get my pitch count up, I think I’ll be fine going into the season,” he said.

Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

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Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies signed free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta earlier this week.

That's probably going to be the extent of their pitching additions for now.

Jerad Eickhoff is out until at least May with a strained right lat muscle and that creates a sizable hole in the Phillies rotation.

The hole is likely to be filled internally, according to general manager Matt Klentak. The team is not likely to make a run at Alex Cobb, who remains on the free-agent market.

"I doubt it," Klentak said when asked if he would look outside the organization to fill Eickhoff's spot. "I don't think we have to. I think a lot of our guys have shown very well in camp. They have gotten their pitch counts up, they're getting to the point of being fully stretched out.

"More than anything, I think we're going to have some tough decisions on figuring out who is in the rotation, who is in the bullpen, who goes into the Triple-A rotation, who goes into the Double-A rotation. We've got a lot of tough decisions to make on that front, but I don't think we're in a position where we have to go outside. We have a lot of candidates to take the ball at the big league level so we'll be fine."

Aaron Nola will start on opening day. Arrieta will be in the rotation, though he might need an extra week or so to get ready. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are likely to hold down spots. That leaves Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr., Jake Thompson, Drew Hutchison and Tom Eshelman in the running for the final spot in the five-man rotation. Eshelman, strike-thrower extraordinaire, was the Phillies' minor-league pitcher of the year last year and projects to be in Philadelphia before long. However, it might not be at the outset of the season because he is not on the 40-man roster. Neither is Hutchison.

The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 11 so they could employ some creative roster construction until then. They could go with four starters and an extra reliever or bench man. Or they could bring an extra starter and "piggyback" him with Arrieta, a move that would allow Arrieta to make an abbreviated start during the first week of the season.

"There's a decent chance we open the season with somewhat of a non-traditional 25-man roster, not because we're trying to be cute but because we don't need the fifth starter until the 11th," Klentak said. "We're going to do whatever puts us in the best position to win those first 10 days of the season."

The Phillies made one transaction on Friday. They added utility man Pedro Florimon to the 40-man roster. He had a provision in his minor-league contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he wasn't on the 40-man roster by March 15. Florimon is a candidate for a spot on the Phillies' bench. The move doesn't guarantee that Florimon will win a spot, but it gives the team more time to evaluate him. To make room for Florimon, the Phillies designated infielder Eliezer Alvarez for assignment.

Florimon homered in the Phillies' 6-4 loss to Toronto in Clearwater Friday. Cam Rupp and Cesar Hernandez also homered. Velasquez gave up five hits and a run in 2⅔ innings. He struck out five.

In Lakeland, Pivetta allowed two runs over five innings as the Phils and Tigers played to a 6-6 tie. J.P. Crawford and Ryan Flaherty both homered.